In this brilliant book, Roger Cohen of The New York Times weaves together the history of Yugoslavia and the story of the Bosnian War of 1992 to 1995, as experienced by four families.
“I have tried to treat the story of Yugoslavia, which lived for seventy-three years, as a human one,” Cohen writes in this masterly book, which, like Thomas L. Friedman’s From Beirut to Jerusalem and David Remnick’s Lenin’s Tomb, makes us eyewitnesses at the center of historic events. In the aftermath of the Cold War, the Bosnian conflict shattered the West’s confidence, reviving Europe’s darkest ghosts and exposing an America reluctant to confront or acknowledge an act of genocide on European soil. Through Cohen’s compelling reconstruction of the twentieth-century history that led up to the war, and his account of the war’s effect on everyday lives, we at last find the key to understanding Europe’s most explosive region and its peoples.
“This was a war of intimate betrayals,” Cohen goes on to say, and in Hearts Grown Brutal, the betrayals begin in the family of a man named Sead. Through his search for his lost father, we relive the history of Yugoslavia, founded at the end of World War I with the encouragement of President Woodrow Wilson. Sead’s desperate quest is punctuated by the lies, half truths, and pain that mark other sagas of Yugoslavia. Through three more families—one Muslim-Serb, one Muslim, and one Serb-Croat—we experience the war in Bosnia as it breaks up marriages and sets relative against relative. The reality of the Balkans is illuminated, even as the hypocrisy of the international response to the war is exposed.
Hearts Grown Brutal is a remarkable book, a testament to the loss of a multi-ethnic European state and a warning that the violence could return. It is a magnificent achievement that blends history and journalism into a profoundly moving human story.